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Transcending Industrial Era Paradigms: Exploring Together the Meaning of Academic Leadership for Diversity

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session I

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Linda Vanasupa California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Linda Vanasupa has been a professor of materials engineering at the California Polytechnic State University since 1991. She also serves as co-director of the Center for Sustainability in Engineering at Cal Poly. Her life's work is focused on creating ways of learning, living and being that are alternatives to the industrial era solutions--alternatives that nourish ourselves, one another and the places in which we live. Her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees are in materials science and engineering from Stanford University and her B.S. degree in metallurgical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.

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Lizabeth T Schlemer California Polytechnic State University

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Lizabeth is a professor at Cal Poly, SLO in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. She has been teaching for 23 years and has continued to develop innovative pedagogy such as project based, flipped classroom and competency grading. Her current research examines grading and the assumptions faculty hold about students. Through the SUSTAIN SLO learning initiative she and her colleagues have been active researching transformation in higher education.

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This poster describes findings from a transdisciplinary freshman learning initiative involving four cohorts from 2012 to 2015 with over 200 freshmen students from 59 different majors in partnership with over 30 community agencies and 20 faculty members from 5 colleges at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Although the outcomes of the initiative indicated success, the activities proved difficult for our university to support. The stated reasons included assertions of lack of efficiency and suspicion of the pedagogical methods. We have come to believe that this systemic intolerance for differences is the same dynamic that produces the persistent lack of diversity in STEM (traditionally defined as the physical sciences, technology, engineering, and math). We know other STEM change agents are struggling with these same forces that preserve past methods, approaches, and values. The common view in STEM education is that the systemic lack of diversity is a problem that needs to be fixed, rather than a predictable, normal outcome of the current system’s functioning. But from the point of view of systems thinking, the symptoms and patterns of exclusion in STEM education are rooted in the assumed and unexamined values and paradigms of the system’s architects. We, the administrators, faculty, staff and participants, create and uphold the structures, policies, and practices that produce inequity. Instead of leading for diversity, we lead by the exertion of force and control in order to achieve “efficiency” and maintain a specifically non-diverse institutional identity in service to preserving “market advantage.” We value and develop “economies of scale”, which require homogeneous thinking, action, and results—none of which support diversity of structure, thinking, action, and outcomes. To realize diversity, our paradigm must shift from an imbalanced prioritization of traditional capitalist values, such as economy of scale (one-dimensional thinking and efficiency) to economies of scope, inherently diverse in structure, thought, and action. Diversity almost certainly means a great deal of tolerance and cooperative capacity. This includes embracing conflict, ambiguity, uncertainty, and paradox, all of which are more or less antithetical to economies of scale, the academic currency of expertise, legacy definitions of efficiency, and the objectivism foundational to STEM epistemologies. Transcending these industrial era paradigms and values is required to foster diversity in higher education institutions.

Vanasupa, L., & Schlemer, L. T. (2016, June), Transcending Industrial Era Paradigms: Exploring Together the Meaning of Academic Leadership for Diversity Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27073

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